He had just finished speaking to the members of the Manchester Athenaeum (A-tha-nee-um). He had witnessed the harsh conditions of the manufacturing workers in their city. Along with scenes he had recently observed at the Field Lane Ragged School, he was determined to bring light into the darkened world of the poor.
At the school—one of a number of free public schools—he saw young boys and girls he would describe as the embodiment of “profound ignorance and perfect barbarism.” The children were illiterate, filthy, and dressed in rags. A companion of his was so overwhelmed by the smell of the place that he turned and ran out. 57% of children born to working class children in Manchester died before they reached the age of five.
On top of that dire statistic, the workers in the mills were experiencing a 15 to 20 percent unemployment rate. Their wages had dropped a similar amount in the past ten years. The invention of the power loom had left many without jobs. The poor were thought of as almost an entirely different race. In a movie depicting his life, a heartless businessman tells him that the poor should hurry up and die so as to “decrease the surplus population.” Manchester was described as a hellhole.
He wanted to do something for the cause of the poor. And he thought the time of the year to do it would be Christmas, which at the time was a minor holiday and not what we know today. And so, after his speech to the library members in which they envisioned a place where anyone could come and learn and better their lives, he walked the dark city streets with his mind formulating what would become his most famous work of fiction.
In 1843 Charles Dickens wanted to revive his writing career and at the same time revive the spirit of Christmas. The book and movie of the same title—The Man Who Invented Christmas—tells the story behind the story of A Christmas Carol. Dickens observed people living in dark times. He had lived them as a child. And he wanted to birth a story that would bring light to those dark places.
Your world might need some light today. And your Christmas might need a facelift as well. Dickens’ world had become dark because people cared little for others. People were like Ebenezer Scrooge who had made his money but cared little if anything for anyone else. What was his was his. What he wanted, he got.
The Christmas season can surface some Scrooge in all of us. Snarled traffic can snarl our lips. Shaky economy makes us horde what we have. We “want” more than “give.” At an early age we learn to make our “wish list” for Christmas. Were we ever taught to create a “give list?”
Before we know it we can be a bit like Scrooge. He was a miser. And that’s only one letter away from misery. How can we keep the holiday season with its crowded malls and decked out halls from making us miserable?
The answer lies in another story, the story behind the story of Christmas. The God who invented Christmas wanted to send light into a dark world too. His plot was to revive the world with Christmas.
You’ve heard the story. The Scrooge in this story is King Herod. He was hard-hearted. He was jealous of the joy the announcement of a newborn king had brought to the land. He was mean enough to kill off some of his own family members. He was tight-fisted, wanting to hold onto his own kingdom instead of embracing this gift of God. There was room in his world for only one king, and he was the one sitting on the throne.
In Dickens’ story, Bob Cratchit is a contrast to Scrooge. Although poor, he celebrated what he already had. A job. A family. And especially a son, Tiny Tim. And in God’s story, the wise men are a contrast to Herod. We don’t know much about them. We’re not sure how many there were. We like to say there were three because of the three gifts given.
What we do know is they were looking for something. They were astronomers—students of the stars. When they saw a new star in the sky they followed it right to Herod’s doorstep and asked: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2).
Their question did not set well with Herod. He became “deeply disturbed.” His inner disturbance resulted in an outer city wide disturbance through Jerusalem. “All Jerusalem” was upset along with him. Not because of the wise men or prophecy. They were agitated because of what Herod might do.
What Herod did was send the wise men on a search mission so he could destroy the child. His chief priests and scribes knew the birthplace: “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they told him, “because this is what was written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah: Because out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Herod was not content with what he had. But the wise men were. They went to see the child who by now was in a house. They did not ask for anything. They gave him no petition. They left no note saying, “When you grow up, will you grant us this one favor?”
They only left him with gold, frankincense and myrrh, all of which would be helpful when his family had to flee Herod and take a trip to Egypt. They also gave him their worship. “Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him” (Matthew 2:11).
With whom do you better relate in the holiday season? Scrooge or Bob Cratchit? Herod or the Wise Men? Which heart is most like yours? Difficult times can make us more like Herod. We hold tight to what we have because we fear we won’t have enough. And it’s been a difficult year. Harvey hit us hard. Some have lost days of work. Some lost jobs. It would be easy to withdraw into a hard outer shell to keep the harsh world at bay.
But let’s not. The season of Advent is a season for preparing for Christ. It is a perfect time to practice generosity instead of miser-osity. Generosity is not natural. It has to be cultivated. How quickly do children open their presents—gifts given to them that they could not buy themselves—before they utter the words “my” and “mine”?
Those who have come to know the story behind Christmas, however, behave differently. Let’s Scrooge-proof our Christmas. And here’s how.
First, don’t spend what you don’t have. How often does the rush of buying presents for your family and others in December turn into the reality of the credit card bill in January? The Bible says: “Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another…” (Romans 10:8).
Second, live beneath your means. When we try to live a lifestyle we cannot support financially, we are heading for trouble. Charles Dickens’ father did and wound up in debtor’s prison. It forced Charles at the age of 12 to work hard 10-hour days. You don’t have to have a lot of money to be greedy. Greed is living over your means. So as Dave Ramsey likes to say: “Act your wage.”
And then follow this third piece of biblical advice: cultivate generosity. Generosity is not something we fall to naturally. Did you know the average American gives 2.1% of their wages to some form of charity? That means for every $100 a person makes they give $2.
You can decide for yourself whether that reflects Jesus’ teaching when he said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Jesus wanted to teach us to have a generous spirit. Instead of a lecture, he gave us a story found in Luke 12.
There he tells of a rich man who was very prosperous. He’d be the guy today on the business news segment telling us how to handle our money. He’d be the guy at the Marriott conference center sharing his secrets with you in exchange for a $499 admission fee.
And what does he do with all his riches? He rents out more mini-storage units for all his stuff. Listen closely to his words: “He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.” (Luke 12:17-19).
Did you hear it? “I, I, my, I, I’ll, my, my, my, I’ll, myself.” His favorite subject is himself. He even talks to himself. And worse, he doesn’t talk to God.
But God talks to him. “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared — whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20). No ghosts on Christmas Eve in this story. The man hears straight from God himself. And in case his listeners missed the point of the story, Jesus ends with these words: “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
Jesus is not against savings. He is not against retirement funds. And he’s not against wealth. The problem is the man, like Scrooge, has merely sat back and counted his money. He never asked God—the one who gave him the ability to make his wealth—what he wanted him to do with it.
The apostle Paul echoed this teaching in 1 Timothy 6:17-19: “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share, storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of what is truly life.”
Paul is speaking to the “rich in the present age.” That’s you and me. When 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day, we are the rich. Paul tells us three things:
First, “not to be arrogant.” The rich fool was arrogant. He thought what he had was his for now and forever. He learned quickly he was wrong. The Scriptures declare God owns everything (cf. Deut. 10:14). That includes your house, your bank account, and your 401K.
Second, “not…to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God…” Wealth is uncertain. There have been 11 recessions since 1948. One hits about every 5 years. If you put your trust there, you will be disappointed.
But God does not disappoint. He can be trusted. And Paul reminds us it is God who gives us everything to enjoy. And because he can be trusted we can be “generous and willing to share” so that we might “take hold of what is truly life.” Generous people, Paul says, find life.
So Scrooge-Proof the holidays this year. Let me suggest three places you can be generous: You can be generous to someone in a foreign country. The Wise Men did. They helped Joseph, Mary and Jesus with gifts that enabled them to live while in Egypt. Organizations like World Vision can show you ways to help others. For example, you can buy someone a goat for Christmas. You can do it in the name of someone here who already has all they need. I’m thinking of buying one in Josh’s name so I can tell him, “I got your goat.” I told Karen I was thinking about getting her a donkey. She said, “Why would I need one? I married you.”
You can be generous to someone right here. Tomball is the poorest area in Texas. You can give someone time or maybe money. You can volunteer at TEAM or at a shelter. Or you can take a family from the Angel Tree and cultivate generosity and a willingness to share.
You can give to the church. Did you know that ChristBridge gives to agencies like TEAM and TOMAGWA every month? We keep a fund called our Family Care ministry to help people that are a part of our church who need a little help. We often give to people who come by – not connected to us – who are just needing help.
The help we can give through this church is only limited by the amount of money given here. About 10% of this church gives almost 90% of what is given. What if that changed beginning this season? What if we cultivated a spirit of generosity as Jesus taught us?
Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the all-time great characters in literature. But let’s keep him on the pages of a book. Let’s let the God who invented Christmas write us into his script of bringing light into our dark world.
 The Man Who Invented Christmas, 60.
 The Man Who Invented Christmas, 53.
 You have to turn to Acts 20:34 to find Paul quoting Jesus .
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